There’s a strong debate over which one is better – free weights or strength machines? People are more likely to associate free weights with body builders, whilst machines can be viewed as the safe option for novices and intermediates – but is this fair?
Free weights are do exactly as the name suggests – they move freely. Because of their flexible and free movement, free weight training will work several muscles at once. Multi-joint compound movements are fantastic for all over conditioning and it can also work out the areas of muscle you might overlook. One of the best examples of this is squat lifting. To effectively complete the move you have to work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs and the lats!
Free weight training also improves functional fitness. The movements you carry out encourage your body to use it’s natural biomechanics, and as such this improvement can also cross over into other areas of your life such as an improvement in athletic performance. Free weights can also help to stabilise your muscle groups and keep joints and bones healthy, especially as you get older.
Weight machines are much more specific. If you go to any gym and use a weight machines you will see exactly which muscle it targets. This can be beneficial if you want to focus on a specific area – you might find that one set of muscles is noticeably weaker than others and want to bring it up to the same level. This is particularly useful for those who suffer with a muscle imbalance.
Because machines are structured and focused on one area, you can actually lift more on weight machines than you could in free weight training. If you’re building up to a certain weight, the machines can be a better option because they have the safety there, so if you really to go for it but might be worried about being able to lift, the machine will protect you. If you’re lifting too heavy in free weights there’s the risk of dropping it and injury. With a machine you just won’t be able to lift and if you do have to suddenly drop it it’s not going to drop anywhere where it can hurt you.
When it comes down to which one is better, it depends entirely on what you want to do. There isn’t a right or wrong choice. If you want to build big muscle all over then free weights will probably help you out more, whilst if you want to focus on building up your arms and are starting out the machines could be an advantage.